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Sales & Service: Profession requires self-discipline and adaptability for success

Jun. 4, 2012 - 01:39PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 4, 2012 - 01:39PM  |  
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Are you ready?

Not everyone is cut out for sales. This is a specialized kind of work, miles away from processing paper in a cubicle or putting a shovel in the earth. Have you got the right stuff? Talk to salespeople to get a feel for what they do and who they are. Then check out this checklist.
Oh, the pain. Can you handle rejection? Because that is a big part of any sales job. People say no, and you can’t take it personally. Can you get back in the ring and keep on swinging?
Flying solo. Most salespeople have a backup team at the home office, but day to day they go it alone. The military had you working in teams. Are you ready to be out there on your own?
Eye contact. People buy from people they trust. Forthright speech, a direct and honest manner: Got ’em? You’ll need ’em. There is a social element to sales, the ability to schmooze and not just pitch. Do you like people enough to get to know them, to build relationships?
Patience. It can take a while to close the deal, not just a couple of hours but even a few months. Got the stamina to go the distance?

For Brandon Johnson, it's not just about the ball bearings. A former Army captain who left the service in 2009 after a final stint as an artilleryman in Germany, Johnson now works as a sales engineer with Schaeffler Group, whose ball bearings grease the skids on everything from auto engines to power tools.

Sales careers can take a number of forms:

Manufacturer's representative: Working as independent agents, manufacturer's reps sell goods on behalf of several companies, often to the same customers. They work on straight commission, so you'll need drive and focus to succeed.

Direct to consumer: You work face to face, selling directly to the end user. Herbalife and Mary Kay fit the mold. You'll typically pay a small fee for a sales kit to get started and get paid on commission. An in-person pitch means you can't be shy.

Corporate sales: Working on behalf of an employer, corporate sales professionals negotiate contracts and build ongoing relationships. They may cold-call, but more often they'll be given a roster of clients to service and may be paid a salary along with a commission or bonuses.

Sales management: Rather than do the selling, managers oversee sales operations, guiding and motivating their teams, developing strategy and collecting information on the marketplace. These positions are salaried.

Medical sales: A special subset of selling, medical sales is picking up steam as the baby boomers age and new innovations hit the market. You may sell pharmaceuticals or devices, visiting doctors' offices or — in the case of some devices — actually standing by in the operating room to inform physicians as they work.

Johnson isn't in it because he loves the little steel spheres. What he loves is selling. "In a sales position, what you put in is what you get out. So a lot of the things I learned in the Army about hard work and being completely committed — those were the things that make me successful as a salesman," he said.

Sales can be the core of any company, the engine of success for businesses and a lucrative profession for those who are good at it. It's not one-size-fits-all — you can find all kinds of sales jobs — but some common themes emerge.

CBS News' Sales Machine estimates that 45 million Americans work in sales. These jobs require a certain type of character, one uniquely suited to the military persona.

"Sales organizations love to hire military veterans," said Willy Bolander, a Florida State University marketing professor. "The military teaches people invaluable skills like self-discipline, problem-solving, goal-setting and adaptability. All of these skills are essential for success in sales."

Better still, veterans already have proven themselves in very practical terms.

"In my time in Iraq, I was involved with the local townspeople, the sheiks, and a lot of that relationship-building really applies to what I am doing now," said Johnson, who found his job through the recruiting firm Bradley-Morris. "A big part of sales is just in the relationships you build with people, and that's something I learned in the Army."

How to find a job

Virtually every business has some sort of sales function, but you'll still need to find your way in. Where are the sales jobs listed?

Online. All the big job boards are loaded with sales opportunities. You'll see lots of possible jobs, but you'll be firing off résumés blind, often among hundreds of other applicants.

Job fairs. Face-to-face interactions can be a big bonus for those looking to show off their persuasive skills, but you may be one among many crowding to catch a recruiter's eye.

Industry targets. Find an industry or company you like and start targeting their hiring managers. Even if there's no job listed today, sales has a high turnover rate, and recruiters are always looking around.

Military niche. "I would begin by looking for companies that target their products or services to a military market. If they are trying to sell to military, they usually like to hire military as well," said Florida State University's Willy Bolander. "For example, First Command is a company that provides financial services to active-duty and retired military. Many of their salespeople are retired military themselves. Companies like this believe that veterans are ideally suited for relating to current military members."

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